RN Breakfast 11/4/19

April 11, 2019


SUBJECTS: 2019 election; Liberals’ cuts to schools and hospitals; negative gearing; Government appointments 

FRAN KELLY: Jim Chalmers is Labor's campaign spokesman and Shadow Finance Minister. Jim Chalmers, welcome back to Breakfast and welcome to the election campaign. 

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks very much, Fran. Good morning. 

KELLY: We heard the PM's opening pitch to the nation there. This election will shape the country's direction for the next 10 years. The Coalition is promising 10 years of surplus, 10 years of tax cuts. Labor's 10 year plan includes a $200 billion increase in the tax take over that time. Your tax take goes up, not down. Why would voters go for that? 

CHALMERS: The election's a choice, Fran, between a fair go for Australia or more of the same cuts and chaos that we've seen from the Liberals over the last six years. Australians do have a big choice to make in 37 days time. It's a choice between better hospitals and schools, or bigger tax breaks for the top end of town. And that's what it really boils down to, no matter what Scott Morrison's video claims. He will be throwing all kinds of fear and smear and scare campaigns around that are a distraction from his record over the past six years, which has been cuts to schools and hospitals, cuts to penalty rates, cuts to pensions and the like. 

KELLY: I'm going to pick you up there, because every time Labor says cuts to schools and hospitals, we get contacted by the Prime Minister's office to point out that there is actually record spending on schools and hospitals, and that is true. Because the budgets for those things are only going up. They're not going backwards. It's not a cut to schools and hospitals. It's a cut to what Labor was promising, but that's not the same thing. 

CHALMERS: Well Fran, I've heard you pull up Government ministers, rightly, on this before and some of the increases of spending are purely a function of the population getting bigger. When you look at the profile of spending at the start of this Government compared to what it is now, substantially less is being spent on hospitals and schools than should be, and what would have been. It's entirely within our rights to point to Scott Morrison's record. He can't run from his record in this election. He will desperately try to, but even beyond those cuts to hospitals and schools... 

KELLY: But they're not cuts to hospitals and schools. They're not spending as much as you are, but that's not a cut. 

CHALMERS: I don't agree with you, Fran. Money for hospitals and schools has been cut by this Government repeatedly, ever since that disastrous 2014 Budget a couple of Prime Ministers ago. This has been their form and this has been Scott Morrison's record. But beyond that as well, voting 26 times against a Royal Commission into the banks, cuts to penalty rates, all of these sorts of things. These will be features of the election campaign as it rolls out, because try as he might, Scott Morrison can't run from his record. He can't run from six years of cuts and chaos and division and dysfunction. 

KELLY: Scott Morrison's most recent record is the federal Budget handed down just over a week ago by Josh Frydenberg. The Westpac Melbourne Institute leading index shows that Budget was the best received in eight years. It's seen a lift in consumer confidence. So, if Australians are voting on economic management, which they often do, does the Government have a head start on you right now? 

CHALMERS: If the Budget was so good Fran, why hasn't the Government been talking about it? They've spent the last week with a scare campaign on electric vehicles, which has collapsed under the weight of its lies and incompetence. We've had Turnbull and Morrison and Dutton at war again. We've had millions of dollars of taxpayers' money wasted on political advertising. We've had mates appointed to Government boards. And then just last night, the Prime Minister put it around that he was calling the election by visiting the Governor-General last night and he couldn't even get that right. I think that kind of sums up the shambles that has been the last six years. We don't hear much about that Budget. We're happy to talk about the Government's Budget, because there were downgrades to growth, downgrades to wages, downgrades to consumption, and debt has actually doubled over the six years of the life of this Liberal Government. We're happy to engage... 

KELLY: There was also, as I said at the start, surpluses and tax cuts. Let's look at your economic credentials in contrast. The Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has had to try to explain why your negative gearing policy doesn't now have holes in it, since he conceded yesterday a blowout in the number of investors likely to claim the tax break. Basically, more investors negatively gearing for apartments than Labor had factored in. What does that do to your projected savings for this measure? Will scrapping negative gearing concessions for existing dwellings still reap you the $34 billion over 10 years that you budgeted? 

CHALMERS: A couple of things about that, Fran. And you're right that Chris Bowen did explain this at some length yesterday.  What it boils down to is that the Parliamentary Budget Office is independent. It has said that it stands by its costing. They relied on consultation with the Bureau of Stats, with the Reserve Bank of Australia, the major banks, and others. And they adopted a considered assumption, which fed into the costing of our policy. We have a very robust costings process. We rely heavily on the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. But also, on a panel of eminent Australians to check that our costings and assumptions and methodology are correct. 

KELLY: I heard Chris Bowen say that, but what's the end result then? If that's been revised by the PBO, have you had to revise how much Labor would raise over 10 years from scrapping negative gearing concessions for existing dwellings. Is it still going to be $34 billion? 

CHALMERS: What happens after every Budget, Fran, is the PBO updates all of their costings for us and especially in the lead up to an election. So we've just had the Budget nine days ago now, and standard practice each time is to update the costings as the new year comes into the forward estimates and as the various economic parameters change. It is entirely standard. It won't just apply to this policy, but indeed all our policies and we'll look as well at the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook. What Chris Bowen and I will do at some point during the campaign is we'll stand up and we'll detail all of our costings, all of our assumptions... 

KELLY: Is it fair to assume though, that revenue measure - $34 billion over 10 years - will be revised down? 

CHALMERS: Every single one of our costings is revised, Fran. That's the point that I'm making. I'm not assuming that it will be revised up or down at this point. We'll go through that process as we always do with our robust costings process, and we will release all of the details during the campaign. 

KELLY: Does that mean you could have a hole in your costings though? 

CHALMERS: No Fran, there won't be. And when we do that, people are entitled to have a good look at our costings. What they will also see is that Chris Bowen and I will take to this election a more responsible set of books than the Government. That's because we won't continue to give big tax breaks to the top end of town. We'll be far more responsible, because there are big challenges on the horizon and the responsibility for us in the Labor Party, indeed for everyone in this election campaign, is to be responsible with the public's money. 

KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's 18 minutes to 8. Our guest is Jim Chalmers, he's Labor's campaign spokesperson and Shadow Finance Minister. The politics of this, the Prime Minister says the Government is the underdog going into this election. Certainly, the Coalition's been behind in the polls for the entire term. For Labor to lose it now would be a dramatic failure of your policies and of your Leader I suppose too. Is this election Labor's to lose? 

CHALMERS: We take no vote for granted, Fran. I don't think you could find a skerrick of complacency anywhere in the Labor Party. We will work as hard as we can to gain the trust and support of Australians in the weeks ahead. But I also think that the competitive position that we are in at the start of this campaign is a reflection of the fantastic job that Bill has done and is doing; the fact that we have spent six years in Opposition wisely while our opponents have torn themselves apart with that six years of cuts and chaos. We are steady and stable and united and experienced and we're ready. We're ready for the campaign and we're ready to govern in the event that the campaign goes our way. 

KELLY: Is this election going to be won in Queensland and Victoria. Is that where Labor's focusing its efforts? 

CHALMERS: They're crucial, absolutely crucial States. There's no doubt about that. Queensland and Victoria will be key to the election outcome. But we're contesting seats right around Australia. I think Western Australia is important too. There are opportunities in South Australia, right around the place. We have said that we want to govern for all Australians. The imperative is on us to campaign everywhere, and that's what we'll be doing. But there is no doubt that my home state of Queensland will be key, as will Bill's home state of Victoria.  

KELLY: And do you accept that Labor is looking at losing some seats, perhaps a seat like Lindsay for instance? 

CHALMERS: We'll work our tails off to avoid that obviously, Fran. There's no point calling the election result 37 days out, even in individual seats. There will be difficult contests right around Australia. We've done the work, we're united, steady and stable and experienced, and we're giving ourselves every chance. 

KELLY: Ok, just finally on one issue that Chris Bowen made some comments on yesterday. Since the Budget was handed down a little over a week ago, the Coalition has announced 49 appointments to Government boards and other entities. In the week before the Budget, there were 100 more. Chris Bowen has said that if Labor wins Government, it will not necessarily honour all those appointments. Is there a time limit Labor's looking at? What would be your brief for revising these appointments? 

CHALMERS: That's all to be determined, Fran. I think the point that Chris made was well made, that in the last couple of weeks there have been an extraordinary amount of Government appointments and mates appointed to Government jobs, including in some cases, where the appointment is not due until after the election. There have also been some high profile appointments where it would have been more appropriate for the Opposition to be consulted. That didn't happen. We'll obviously take advice if and when we come to office and work out what's the best outcome for Australia. 

KELLY: Jim Chalmers, thank you very much for joining us. 

CHALMERS: Thank you, Fran.